Helen Neville with her book Evolution of Family.
Helen Neville with her book Evolution of Family. Darryn Smith

Fascinating family secrets

EVERY person has a story. The question is, how do you tell it?

Helen Neville, of Bli Bli, was faced with this question one morning when watching a breakfast television program in August 2007. They were broadcasting from Abbotsford Convent in Victoria, which triggered a memory of a family secret and motivated Helen to embark on a journey of discovery about her family's past.

Helen sought out information about her mother's time as a child in the Abbotsford Convent and began interviewing family members. As Helen dug deeper into her family's past she eventually settled on the idea collating the information in the form of her first book - Evolution of a Family.

It took Helen four years to research and write her book, described by the Victorian Writers Centre as "as good as AB Facey's A Fortunate Life".

"Well I wouldn't classify myself as a writer. I did a lot of research into history and when I progressed into it more and more I thought I had to write a story out of it," she said.

Upon finishing her book, Helen sent her manuscript to different publishers but they all came back with the same answer.

"When I finished it I thought this is great it's going to be grabbed, it's so good. So I sent it to publishers and I spoke to one publisher and he said anything to do with a family, they're not going to do it. Unless your famous or someone in the book is famous they're not going to touch it, so I had to start from scratch as to how to go about (self-publishing) it," she said.

"It's been quite a process, to get a printer and find a book designer… deciding how many copies to do, promoting it and all the rest of it. It's been extremely difficult," she said.

" It probably cost me about six thousand, and the way I look at it - it came out on the first of July last year and to date I've sold 58 books. I ordered 200 to start with, and a lot of them I had to use as complimentaries, so I think just over 80 books have gone out."

Helen said although the process was at times challenging, she is happy she followed through with the publication of her book.

"I decided to use a Melbourne printer because that's where the basis of the story was mainly centred; in north east Victoria, and I thought I'd have to hop on a plane and have a meeting but there was no need because we could do it by email or over the phone. He then suggested a book designer which at first I thought 'this is a bit a cosy' but it turned out she was fantastic," she said.

"If I was going to do it I really wanted to go for it."

Once Helen's book was printed, bound and ready to be read, she was obliged to send complimentary copies to at least three libraries according to current copyright laws in Australia.

"Anybody that writes a book has to send one to the National Library," she explained.

"In Queensland you not only have to send it to the Queensland library, you also have to send it to the parliamentary library, so you can imagine all these complimentary books that have to go out all over the place. And since then I've also put a copy into the Sunshine Coast library."

Helen also has some words of wisdom for other aspiring writers.

"Just discipline yourself for a start and keep going. If you really believe in what you've done, you've got to follow it through. If you've got the health, you've really got to get out there and do it," she said.

For more information, visit the author's website: evolutionofafamily.com.au or call her on 0417 767 319.

In Queensland, The Queensland Writers Centre holds intensive manuscript development programs in association with Hachette Australia, and has a wealth of advice for aspiring authors on their website: qw.asn.au.

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